ALBANY — Work, worship and community are important components of life in the South. Photographer Paul Kwilecki framed, captured and preserved those aspects of life in his hometown of Bainbridge and Decatur County through black-and-white photography. Twenty-nine of his images are on exhibition at the Albany Museum of Art.
“Work, Worship & Community: Photography by Paul Kwilecki” opened March 4, in the AMA East Gallery and continues through June 26. The AMA is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Thursdays. Admission is free.
“The documentary nature of Kwilecki’s work belies deeper feeling, even love the photographer held for his subjects, all of whom lived in his own backyard of southwest Georgia,” Albany Museum of Art Executive Director Andrew J. Wulf said. “Kwilecki practiced the opposite of travel photography. He stayed put, for decades, mining visually the everyman and everywoman of Decatur County. He was an anthropologist who studied his home, bringing into high relief the mystery of all folks everywhere.”
Kwilecki (1928-2009) was dedicated to photographing his hometown and surrounding Decatur County. Shooting 35 mm film, he captured small-town life with images of black agricultural workers, working-class individuals, cafés, courthouses, grocery stores, cemeteries and churches.
“‘Work, Worship & Community’ represents a selection of documentary photographs taken throughout a lifetime in south Georgia,” AMA Guest Curator Didi Dunphy said. “Looking for the core of what it is to be human, through love, toil, hope and despair, cruel poverty to an overpowering vitality, Kwilecki captures the essential nature of ourselves and place. Images of laborers, churchgoers, some enjoying leisure and neighbors, Kwilecki shows us a grave reminder of the socio-political gap in rural and small-town Georgia and those who live and work in the region.”
The exhibition was made possible by The Do Good Fund, a Columbus-based public charity with a photography collection that represents “a visual narrative of the ever-changing South,” Dunphy said.
Kwilecki did not pretend to be an impartial photographer who was comprehensively documenting life in his hometown. In the book “One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia,” which was published after his death, he said he photographed subjects that to him were “vivid and substantial.” He focused on illustrating the lives of the poorer residents of Bainbridge and Decatur County, with wealthier residents shown primarily as business owners or shoppers. In his photography, he said in “One Place,” “The essential element was feeling.”
Kwilecki’s first book, “Understandings: Photographs of Decatur County, Georgia,” was published in 1981, followed by “Lowly Wise, Book One: Scenes of Religion in and Around Decatur County, Georgia” in 1992. “One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia,” edited by Tom Rankin and Iris Tillman Hill, was published posthumously in 2013. His work has been exhibited nationally, and a large archive of his photos and writings are held in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University.
Kwilecki’s work will be at the center of an artist discussion, “Work, Worship & Community: A Panel Discussion on Race and Community,” at 5 p.m. on April 22 in the AMA East Gallery.
The Do Good Fund, founded in 2012, has built a museum-quality collection of photographs taken since World War II in the South. Included in the collection of more than 600 photographs are works by more than 20 Guggenheim Fellows, as well as lesser-known and emerging photographers. The organization’s mission is to make its collection broadly accessible through regional museums, nonprofit galleries and nontraditional venues, and to encourage complementary, community-based programming to accompany each exhibition.
“Thank you to The Do Good Fund for this opportunity to share Paul Kwilecki’s work with the Albany community,” Dunphy said.